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Article | A qualitative exploration of young adult smokers’ responses to novel tobacco warnings


Background: Despite reduced smoking among adolescents, smoking prevalence peaks among young adults aged 18–30, many of whom believe themselves exempt from the health risks of smoking shown in warning labels. We explored how young adult smokers perceived warnings featuring proximal risks, and whether these encouraged cessation more effectively than traditional health messages.

Methods: We conducted in-depth interviews with 17 young adult smokers and explored their perceptions of current warnings as well as novel warnings representing short-term health consequences; immediate social risks, and tobacco’s  toxicity (denormalizing tobacco as an everyday product). We used a thematic analysis approach to explore how participants rationalized existing warnings and interpreted the novel messages.

Results: Participants considered the immediate social and physiological benefits they gained from smoking outweighed the distal risks shown in health warnings, which they regarded as improbable and irrelevant. Of the novel warnings, those presenting immediate social risks altered the balance of gains and losses young adults associated with smoking; however, those presenting short-term health risks or depicting tobacco as a toxin were less effective.

Conclusions: Participants regarded warnings featuring proximal social risks as more salient and they were less likely to rationalise these as irrelevant. Social risk messages merit further investigation to examine their potential as a complement to traditional health warnings.

Citation: Hoek J., Hoek-Sims A., Gendall P. (2013) A qualitative exploration of young adult smokers’ responses to novel tobacco warnings. BMC Public Health 2013, 13:609

If you would like to access the full article, please view here
To view a subsequent news article from the Dominion Post, titled ” Spurn burns deep for young smokers”, please view here

For further information please contact:
Professor Janet Hoek
University of Otago

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